Over the years, Moose Jaw has developed a bit of a reputation when it comes to hosting major events -- not only will fans come out in droves in support, but the community and an army of volunteers will do all it can to make sure things go off without a hitch.
So when Hockey Canada was looking for a host for the World Para Hockey Championships earlier this year, it seemed like the Friendly City would be a perfect fit.
Now, the preparations begin in earnest for the first tournament of its kind to be contested on Canadian soil since the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver.
“We’re really fortunate that the City of Moose Jaw took on the challenge,” said Ryan Robins, director of events and properties for Hockey Canada. “Overall, it was the support from the province and through the city, as well as Visit Moose Jaw and the Moose Jaw Events Centre that made the difference, and we’re looking forward to seeing the Worlds in Saskatchewan.”
The event will see the Western Hockey League arena go through some major changes, the most noticeable of which will be the installation of see-through boards at the players' and officials' benches. Work will also need to be done on the ice to remove any lips or ridges along areas where players enter the ice surface, on top of general enhancements one would expect to see in a world championship venue.
“So when it gets closer to May and depending on the Warriors in the playoffs, we’ll see when we can get in and do some engineering so we can bring the ice down and get at all the player access areas on the ice,” Robins said. “Then with the retro-fit kits being constructed and sent to Moose Jaw, they’ll be able to switch out the boards and put in glass where it needs to be. Hopefully it all goes as smoothly as it can.”
Once everything is ready to go, Robins and his fellow Hockey Canada officials are confident the event will be a huge success -- especially once fans get a look at the product on the ice.
“I think the real exciting thing is that we know Moose Jaw is a great hockey market, and once people get a chance to see it and how dynamic these athletes are and what the game is like, you get hooked pretty quickly,” Robins said. “It’s exciting action, it’s pretty physical and the amount of skill they have rivals able-bodied hockey in a lot of ways… you can definitely sense the energy and intensity.”
The game is played with players riding sledges with hockey blades along the bottom -- hence the old name of sledge hockey -- while using short sticks with picks on one end to get around the ice. Players must have some form of lower body impairment, varying from athlete to athlete.
Other than that, it’s the game as you know it, with plenty of action to keep fans entertained.
The hope is that with a solid showing of support, Moose Jaw and the province in general will become a hotbed of para hockey going forward, much like the wild success wheelchair curling has seen in recent years.
“With the capabilities the venue has, from the ability to accommodate eight rooms and all the logistics, plus the curling facility that can host meals or a mix zone or warm-up spaces, there aren’t many venues like this in Canada that can bring something like this to fruition,” Robins said. “So there’s a lot of potential for the future, too, and we’re really hoping to see the game grow from here.”